Holidays on the Lamb


The last two months of the year are a time of celebration and giving thanks. Family and friends gather around the holiday table to reconnect and reminisce while enjoying a hearty meal together.

When I was growing up, lamb often found its way onto our holiday table. An untraditional meal to many, lamb became our tradition, and to this day, the smell of lamb wafting through the house brings back all those memories of home and comfort.

Here are a few simple, yet elegant, recipes that use the gifts of late autumn and early winter: apples, sunchokes, pomegranates, and blood oranges. All recipes include tips on how to prepare ahead, so you can enjoy your time, stress-free, on the day of your gathering.


Endive and Apple Salad with Buttermilk Dressing and Maple-Glazed Pecans

endive-apple-salad-110Serves 6 | active time 20 minutes

A perfect balance between bitter and sweet, endives and apples are a classic combination. Paired with a creamy, tangy buttermilk dressing and maple-glazed pecans, this simple, texture-filled salad is a delicious beginning to the holiday meal.


5 endives, ends trimmed, leaves separated
2 apples (Honeycrisp, Gala, or Braeburn), thinly sliced
1/8 cup finely sliced red onion
1/2 cup maple-glazed pecans (see below) or toasted pecans
1/4 cup crumbled, cooked bacon (optional)
Maple-Glazed Pecans

Toss raw pecans with pure maple syrup, lightly coating. Salt and pepper. Spread out on a lightly greased cookie sheet and place in a 400°F oven for 20–25 minutes, mixing once halfway through. Pecans will begin to smell toasty and darken just slightly. Remove, let cool 10 minutes, loosen the pecans from tray with metal spatula, then let cool all the way. Store in a sealable bag.


1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mayo
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper each
Tip: Make the dressing a few ahead and refrigerate.

To Make the Salad

In a large bowl add endive, sliced apples and red onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with salad, coating all leaves well.

Divide salad among plates and top with maple-glazed pecans and optional bacon crumbles.


Sunchoke Soup with Truffle oil

sunchoke-truffle-soup-206Serves 6 | active time 35 minutes

A silky smooth soup that hints of earth and fall. Surprisingly vegan, the soup is light yet richly satisfying with deep umami flavors.


1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or sage or rosemary)
3 cups water
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 pound sunchokes, scrubbed, sliced
1/2 pound potatoes (Yukon or white), sliced
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (like shiitake or morels)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (or Bragg Liquid Aminos)
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Drizzle of truffle oil


In a large, heavy-bottom pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion. Saute 4–5 minutes until golden, stirring often. Add garlic and fresh herbs, saute 1–2 minutes.

Add stock, water, sunchokes, potatoes, dried mushrooms, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Check that potatoes are tender.

Using a blender and working in batches, blend soup until very smooth. Return to a pot on the stove. Add soy and vinegar. Taste, adding more salt or vinegar if needed.

Divide among bowls and drizzle with truffle oil. Garnish with a sprig of fresh herb.

Tip: This soup can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Gently warm up before serving. For added richness, add a dollop of sour cream.


Braised Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate and Fennel

braised-lamb-shanks-111Serves 6 | cooking time 2 hours, 30 minutes active time

Sumptuous slow-braised lamb shanks are infused with fennel in two forms, seed and bulb, and cooked in stock and port. To finish, scarlet pomegranate juice is reduced to make a bright sauce, giving the lamb life and vibrancy. Serve this over a creamy polenta.


6 lamb shanks, 1 pound each
salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, cut into wedges, or 2 pounds pearl onions (in the freezer section of your grocery store)
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 large fennel bulbs
5 rosemary sprigs or 3 bay leaves
One 750-milliliter bottle ruby port
3 cups chicken or beef stock
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds


Preheat oven to 350°F

Slice the top inch of the meat down, releasing it from the bone. Generously salt and pepper the lamb shanks on all sides.

Heat oil in an extra-large, heavy-bottom Dutch oven.

Working in batches, brown the shanks on all sides over medium-high heat. Take your time and do this well.

Set the shanks aside.

Keep the heat on medium-high?

Add onions, garlic, fennel bulbs, and herbs to the same pan. Add port and stock, scraping up the browned bits and bring to a simmer..

Place the shanks back in the liquid, meaty side down, bring to a boil, cover well, and place the Dutch oven, covered, in a 350°F for 1.5 hours.

In a small pot, reduce simmer the pomegranate juice on medium heat, uncovered until it reduces to down to 1 cup, about 20 minutes.

When shanks are tender, add 1 cup of the strained shanks cooking liquid to the remaining pomegranate juice. Plate the shanks and drizzle a little pomegranate sauce over the top, garnishing with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Tip: This dish pairs really well with a soft, creamy, Parmesan polenta. The shanks can be cooked ahead, refrigerated in the cooking liquid, then reheated, as well as the sauce.


Dark-Chocolate Panna Cotta with Candied Blood-Orange Slices

chocolate-blood-orange-panna-cotta-403Serves 6 | 30 minutes active time, 6 hours to refrigerate

A decadent finish to your holiday dinner, this creamy luscious dark-chocolate dessert is rich and satisfying, yet not overly sweet. Simple to make, this make-ahead dessert can be brought out right after dinner, already dished up, with no hassle (but with lots of applause).

Panna Cotta

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup half-and-half
1/8–1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla or Kahlua liqueur
generous pinch salt
1 cup quality bittersweet chocolate chips
1 package gelatin
1/4 cup fresh blood-orange juice (or regular orange works too)
Candied Blood-Orange Slices
1 blood orange, thinly sliced (or use a regular orange)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water


In a medium pot, gently heat whipping cream and half-and-half over medium heat. Add sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir often and bring just to a simmer, taking care not to boil. Turn heat to low and whisk in chocolate chips, stirring until chocolate is melted and smooth. Taste. Add more sugar if you prefer, and gently stir over low heat to dissolve.

Turn heat off.

In a small saucepan, warm orange juice just slightly. Sprinkle gelatin over the top, let it sit one minute, then stir with a fork until smooth. Add to the hot chocolate mixture and whisk well.

Divide the mixture into 6 ramekins, cups, or glasses (stemless wineglasses or vintage cocktail glasses work well here) and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to three days (covering with plastic wrap if refrigerating longer than overnight).

To make candied blood-orange slices, bring sugar and water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the thinly sliced oranges, coating all sides. Simmer over medium heat 20 minutes, turning the sliced oranges occasionally until they become tender and syrup thickens. Turn heat to low, simmer 10–15 more minutes. Place orange slices on a cooling rack, reserving syrup.

When panna cotta is firm and oranges have cooled, place a candied blood-orange slice over the top of each panna cotta dish and drizzle with a little of the syrup. Serve with a small spoon, or refrigerate until ready to serve (wrap with plastic wrap).

Tip: Make this up to 3 days ahead and refrigerate until ready to serve. Instead of making the candied blood oranges, you could simply add a tablespoon of finely grated orange zest to the panna cotta.

To intensify the beautiful color of the candied oranges, add 1–2 slices of raw beet to the syrup while cooking, especially if you are using regular oranges.

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